The Nexus 4 with No LTE: Why You Should Love and Hate Google For It

On Oct. 29, the Nexus 4 was announced with a list of additional companion products (Nexus 10 and a rebooted Nexus 7 with 16 and 32 GB models). With its announcement, the Nexus 4 hit every benchmark set against it, except one: no LTE support. Now there are plenty of reasons for Android purists to be upset about this decision, but to be honest, leaving LTE off the table was probably the best thing for the Nexus brand.

One initial challenge of the Nexus smartphone is the Catch-22 it found itself in. Include LTE, and appease more consumers, but also deal with additional carrier bloatware and update delays, or exclude it, and keep Android pure and liberated from carrier influence – but whatever they chose, it was clear they couldn’t have both.

The Nexus 4 also had absolutely zero leverage with carriers. Because Nexus devices typically sell in modest numbers, the Nexus 4 lacked the same influence the iPhone did to dictate its needs to a larger LTE/CDMA carrier like Verizon. Also, even if Nexus devices were historically selling as the most popular Android smartphone, there are a dozen other flagship Android devices available for a carrier like Verizon to choose from.

Google has also been down the LTE road before, and it’s a bumpy one. An LTE version of the Galaxy Nexus was released on Verizon earlier this year, but only after experiencing carrier release delays, and worse, stalled updates alongside useless Verizon bloatware. This even forced Android Power author, JR Raphael, to ditch his LTE Verizon Galaxy Nexus for the unlocked HSPA+ version back in early July (it’s a little embarrassing when the two-year-old Nexus S grabs Jelly Bean, Android 4.1, before the Verizon Galaxy Nexus).

So to be honest, Google was probably fed up with the whole thing. Also, you have to look at what the Nexus brand means. Google wants it to symbolize an unadulterated and current Android experience independent of carrier contracts. If you view that as the Nexus mission statement, going unlocked and LTE free was probably the only way to go.

But with all of that said, the Nexus 4’s lack of an LTE version is disappointing. I’ve pinged the iPhone for this in the past, and it would hardly be fair to avoid the point here. Google has brought up many valid points to justify exclusive HSPA+ devices, one being battery life (Apple also made the same point with the iPhone 4S); but alongside the reasons mentioned above, at the consumer level, reasons alone may not be enough to justify a purchase. Even for the understanding Android owner, when looking for LTE, many may shop elsewhere (perhaps the Samsung Galaxy S3). That’s perhaps the beauty of Android, and the failure of the Nexus: choice.

But when factoring in all of the options, personally, I’m still going Nexus. I’ve dealt with Android’s fragmentation for far too long to go elsewhere, and even if there was an LTE version, I’d still probably go HSPA+. This is largely because of the carriers influence over the CDMA spectrum, and how Verizon can essentially lock phones into their environment, once again, causing fragmentation (Verizon Galaxy Nexus). Another factor is the price. Google was able to standardize the Nexus 4 by just making HSPA+ versions to help keep the price down. So at $349, for a 16 GB Nexus 4, without a contract, it’s really hard to justify spending $199 for a Galaxy S3 ($599 without contract) that will be out-of-date or fragmented a year into a two-year contract. I’m more than happy to pay the extra money for the Nexus, which could position me to buy Google’s next pure-Android device a year from now. It also allows me to freely move between carriers, not adhere to them.

So as we enter the era of incremental changes in smartphone hardware, it will really be up to the operating system and its corresponding apps to shine. If you believe that Android is the best mobile operating system out there, than there really is no other option than the Nexus 4. By definition, it’s the most sustainable Android smartphone on the market, by remaining current – just as long as the hardware can support it. So for me, the carriers are really to blame. Steve Jobs despised them and Google is now trying to work around them. So you have to respect Google’s reasons for leaving LTE out, while also understanding the early consumer frustration as well.


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